School of Biological Sciences researcher receives NIH “technology transfer” grant

Gerald Wyckoff working with Vassa Informatics on technology to advance drug discovery methods

The technological advances that led to the advent of target-based drug discovery in the 1990s enabled researchers to chemically target specific genes and molecules, thus allowing for the development of drugs that can be more precisely delivered. The drawback to this approach lies in the often time-consuming “hit-and-miss” process of matching the right drug with the right molecular target. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Biological Sciences, working in collaboration with private industry partner Vassa Informatics, may be close to providing a solution.

Gerald Wyckoff, Ph.D., associate professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, recently received a Small Business Technology Transfer Grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his work with Vassa Informatics (formerly Bioinfomatica) in developing a data analysis software program to help researchers better utilize chemical information content for drug discovery.

“The problem with current methods used in target-based drug discovery is that the pharmaceutical companies are, at the same time, suffering from both too much information and too little information,” Wyckoff said. “Too much information in the sense that technology now allows pharmaceutical researchers to identify countless potentially relevant targets, each with a universe of potential chemical candidates. Too little information in the sense that even today’s cutting-edge chemical screening methods cannot narrow that field of candidates down to a manageable number.”

At present, Wyckoff noted, the process of taking a candidate chemical compound from a “hit” to a “lead” takes years and costs tens of millions of dollars. To overcome this, pharmaceutical researchers need a way to streamline this phase of development — a mathematically and biologically sound method for identifying and optimizing novel compounds and ranking these lead candidate chemical compounds and their relationships to promising biological targets.

The software being developed by Dr. Wyckoff and Vassa Informatics is intended to solve this problem through the implementation of an entirely novel approach to identifying novel compounds that existing methods are unable to find. The team’s focus is to develop a “cheminformatic” module that will analyze target-to-compound relationships and the trends in that data, which could vastly improve candidate identification and shorten the hits-to-leads cycle in the drug discovery process. Dr. Wyckoff and his colleagues at Vassa Informatics are also in the process of applying for the second phase of this grant.

About Vassa Informatics

Headquartered in Texarkana, Arkansas with an office in the SF Bay Area, Vassa Informatics develops technologies to assist pharmaceutical, biotech and university researchers worldwide to generate new intellectual property by identifying novel chemical entities that are not found by existing methods. Vassa Informatics’ scientific informatics platform serves as the foundation for a broad range of target and lead discovery services. Data are delivered in industry-standard formats so clients can easily upload them into any research environment, allowing for seamless integration into existing processes and systems.

About the UMKC School of Biological Sciences

The mission of the School of Biological Sciences is to provide outstanding undergraduate and graduate education in modern biology and to advance our understanding of molecular biology through basic research. The school comprises two academic Divisions — Cell Biology & Biophysics and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry. The School’s pioneering programs in molecular genetics, structural biology and proteomics nurture the intellectual capital necessary to fuel the economic development of biotechnology in Kansas City.

About UMKC

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.

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